"Please remember not to allow anyone to step inside your home. Now, enjoy your new baby and stay well!" were the words I heard from a well-meaning nurse before we left the hospital with our new baby.
I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.
This advice was pretty much the opposite of what any new mom needs to hear. Yet, there I was, leaving the hospital on the same day that California governor Gavin Newsom declared the entire state would be entering quarantine mode.
As a second-time mom with a history of postpartum anxiety, I feared what was in store for me.
During my pregnancy, I had put together an extensive game plan to ensure I would be able to take care of myself and focus on my recovery after giving birth. My therapist's number one piece of advice? "Make sure not to isolate yourself. Have a support network lined up for those first couple months."
Although this might not seem like anything radical, I hoped that by taking a few extra precautions like hiring a postpartum doula, would help me make it to the end of the fourth trimester in better shape than I had been the first time around.
My game plan had already been slowly falling apart as the coronavirus started to spread—my husband and I had decided a few weeks earlier that we didn't want our parents stepping foot on a plane, especially since we were in the early hotspot of the Silicon Valley. So we lined up other people to watch our toddler when I went into labor. But as the situation unfolded further, we realized that our parents probably wouldn't be able to come help anytime soon, and other means of support quickly became untenable as well.
My brother had offered to drive two hours to pick up our toddler for a few days after we got home from the hospital which our pediatrician had initially said was okay, as long as everyone in their family was practicing safe social distancing. With the announcement of the lockdown, however, even that option seemed risky.
I sat in my hospital bed canceling plans—plans for my brother to watch my toddler, plans for cat-sitting, meal delivery, and more of my well thought out and planned support systems.
The support that previously seemed essential suddenly became an impossible luxury. Our goal was no longer to thrive, but merely to survive. Perhaps I could have insisted on needing help, but dealing with the repercussions of having no support seemed like a small price to pay in order to prevent a potentially deadly virus from entering our household. After all, we reasoned, it would be even worse if either of us got it.
I found myself breaking all the rules as I recovered from labor. I was back on my feet a few days after giving birth, doing dishes and cooking meals like I had not even just had a baby. My husband did whatever he could, but looking after our toddler left him unable to do it all. There was also a whole new set of chores that needed to be done—such as tracking down toilet paper and sanitizing grocery deliveries.
I thanked my body for allowing me to do more than I thought it could, but I longed—more than anything—to be taken care of for a change.
Although life all around us seemed to have come to a standstill, with the economy collapsing and no one leaving their homes, we ironically felt stuck in the all too common spiral of hitting the ground running. This pressure to bounce back to normal, I knew, was a recipe for disaster. I knew the longer I had to rest and take care of myself, the less chance I'd have of developing postpartum depression.
I had been planning on following some advice from a friend, whose Chinese mother made sure she observed a version of zuo yuezi, or "sitting the month" after childbirth. Modernized versions of zuo yuezi emphasize self-care strategies, such as massage, lots of rest and restorative concoctions to heal the body. Instead, more times than I can count, I have found myself grabbing prepared foods as I wake up bleary-eyed, and worrying about whether I'll be able to make enough breast milk to feed my baby as a result.
More than the physical exhaustion, however, the emotional exhaustion of being postpartum amidst a pandemic has been the hardest for me.
In the rare and precious moments when I have been able to sit down and have a second to myself, it's nearly impossible to avoid picking up my phone to check the latest news about the coronavirus and to make sure everyone I love is okay.
Needless to say, I haven't been surprised when panic has washed over me. I try to think of these moments like waves, and I do what I can to ride them out. Some are more gentle and come with a warning, and others hit me like a ton of bricks.
And yet, the intensity of the situation we're in has turned me into a kinder and less demanding version of myself. With all the uncertainty and hardship felt across the globe, simply getting through each day is something to be thankful for. When the weight of the world feels like too much to bear and I don't have the strength to hold my baby, I listen to myself. I put him down, or sometimes I site down while holding him, where the ground will also hold me, too.
Here I can close my eyes and cry. I cry alongside him or I let my tears gently fall on him as he sleeps. I cry for not being able to hug my mom, for her not being here to hug my baby. I cry for all the suffering around me that I want to be able to help prevent. I cry for no reason at all. I cry because I love my baby so much it hurts.
My moments of panic and fleeting scary thoughts do not make me any less of a mother, I know that. In fact, being able to speak about them and being able to forgive myself, make me feel like a much better mother. If this experience has taught me anything, it is that I am stronger than I believed, especially when I learn to accept my weaknesses.
The world is all kinds of upside-down right now. So much so, I feel we are barely able to comprehend it all. Our "new normal" still looms like a mystery. But we are strong, even in our brokenness—especially in our brokenness—which propels us boldly toward the love we need to feel whole again.
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